How Does Cancer Develop From Asbestos?

Asbestos is a mineral that occurs naturally from fibers that are not conducive to electricity, heat, and corrosion. It works great to insulate and when combined with other material it strengthens. It is used with cement, plastic, paper, and cloth to name a few. The problem with asbestos is that when someone breaths it in, the mineral doesn’t exit the body.  Rather, it stays in the body as it is attached. 

When this happens, people experience inflammation and cancers caused by asbestos, like mesothelioma, can develop.

It is a very dangerous mineral that is still widely used. 

Types Of Asbestos That Cause Cancer

Asbestos is broken up into two different categories and the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986 further separates these into six types of asbestos. Those two types are amphibole and serpentine. Asbestos that are considered serpentine have curly fibers. There is only one kind that is called white asbestos or chrysotile. 

The second kind of asbestos is amphibole. These are recognized by fibers that have a shape that is straight and jagged and have five types:

  • Amosite
  • Tremolite
  • Actinolite
  • Crocidolite
  • Anthophyllite

Amphiboles are the type that are most likely to cause cancer because of the ease by which they can be inhaled. 

Mesothelioma is a common cancer associated with asbestos exposure. However, studies also show that asbestos can cause ovarian, lung, and laryngeal cancers, too. Besides cancer, asbestos exposure can lead to the development of other illnesses including:

  • Asbestosis
  • COPD
  • Pleural plagues
  • Pleuritis

Occupations At Risk For Asbestos Exposure

Working in certain fields holds a bigger risk for coming into contact with asbestos. Whether exposure is small or large, there is not a determined amount of asbestos that is safe to be around and handle. Though, with longer and more consistent exposure, risk is increased. Each time the body comes into contact with asbestos, the damage it incurs cannot be fixed. 

Older men closer to 60 years old have been a big portion of patients who have long-term effects from asbestos. This is because they were normally working in conditions that harbored asbestos and the effects are coming to light as they age. They see problems from breathing in those fibers every day for hours on end as they worked. 

With current bans and regulations on how asbestos can be handled, the risk is reduced greatly. However, it doesn’t entirely go away. Today, there are still several occupations that asbestos holds a risk for. Most of them are in manufacturing and include: 

  • Firefighting
  • Construction
  • Electricity 
  • Military services
  • Mining

Through the 1930s and 1970s, the U.S. military was mainly using asbestos-containing products. A lot of veterans were sick from illnesses resulting from asbestos. It was prevalent on ships that the Navy utilized. Even as a spouse or child of an exposed veteran, you run the risk of getting sick due to a secondhand exposure from asbestos. 

Secondhand Exposure

Secondhand exposure occurs when asbestos fibers remain on clothes, in hair, or other areas which are then carried to another location (like going home). In this way, family members can experience secondhand exposure to asbestos even though they may not have been in direct contact with asbestos-containing materials. Because the risk of asbestos exposure comes from breathing in the mineral, those remnants on clothes become a hazard to anyone who comes in contact with it. As we mentioned, many patients that have become sick due to asbestos were in their late 60s due to a long latency period. 

In the 1960s and 1970s, there were specific jobs that were dominated by men or women. Jobs that required a lot of labor were typically worked by men. In those days, men were working with high amounts of asbestos. Women were not often working alongside them, so the predominant way women were exposed to asbestos was from their spouse, father, or brother bringing it home to them. 

Another way secondhand exposure can happen is through indirect contact, such as from fibers fallen onto a couch or chair. 

Products That Have Asbestos

Currently, asbestos exposure is more rare in America. This most often happens when people start to fix up old houses or buildings and find asbestos in the walls or ceilings. The EPA made a requirement that selling asbestos is to be approved by the Government. Some discontinued products containing asbestos are vinyl tiles, cement, plastics that are reinforced, sealants and coatings, and roofs. 

It was common for suppliers of asbestos to use it in other products. They were found in brake pads, pipes, trains, steam engines, boilers, etc. Four of the most recognized companies manufacturing asbestos are:

  • Pittsburgh Corning
  • Johns Manville
  • W.R. Grace and Co. 
  • Armstrong World Industries

The United States continues to use asbestos but has several regulations that businesses have to follow in order to do so.

High-powered lobbying groups have ensured for years that asbestos remains accessible. Russia, Mexico, China, and India are all countries that still use this unsafe mineral more routinely. 

Alternatives From Asbestos

Suppliers in the U.S. have turned to other alternatives that are safer since the 1980s saw a phase out of asbestos. Now, they have become used to relying on these other types of materials to replace the asbestos they were using. 

Polyurethane Foam

This is a  cheaper way to insulate than the traditional asbestos and holds an effective just the same with easy application. Workers seal up homes and insulation them by spraying on the polyurethane foam. 

Amorphous Silica Fabric

Similar to asbestos this fabric is one that doesn’t burn and will not rot. 

Cellulose Fiber

A chemically treated option that uses linen, shredded paper, cotton, and wood pulp. 

Hiding The Truth About Asbestos

It took a long time for the United States to come to terms with asbestos being a dangerous mineral. It was used in so many products and made large amounts of revenue for several corporations. Documentation from doctors about illnesses from asbestos began back in the 1930s, but these reports would go unnoticed and completely ignored. Even during that time period, businesses found that asbestos did contribute to lung disease. 

Yet, it was still used. This has a lot to do with the money it produced. High profits made many people turn their eyes from what asbestos was actually doing to people. Companies continued sales to use asbestos on ships that were used in World War II. Corrupt businessmen paid people to research and say there was nothing wrong with asbestos. 

Eventually, the information from medical professionals that linked cancer to asbestos exposure were taken seriously. People were no longer allowing the government and businesses to brush it under the rug. Once labor unions started to step in, asbestos was quickly phased out. In 1980, most companies stopped using asbestos, yet there were over hundreds of thousands of workers who were left with the damage that came from working with asbestos for years prior. 

This resulted in lawsuits. Of course, people now understood that they were exposed to this toxic fiber and that businesses knew about it. They did nothing to protect, inform, or get rid of the asbestos even after proven studies of its dangerous relations to humans. Compensation is warranted. Many businesses had to file bankruptcy and this resulted in them spending what they had left to pay the workers they harmed. 

Asbestos Is Still Being Used

Russia is now the biggest contributor when it comes to asbestos.

They are still manufacturing it with few regulations to follow. In the town of Asbest, Russia, which is named for asbestos, there is a mine that is directly in the middle of the town bringing in nearly 70 percent of the town’s overall income. 

Asbestos production is praised in Russia, despite all of the medical reports of its danger. Evidence points to a definitive link in cancer and disease development yet the town is reliant on it. In Asbest, the townspeople have made a shrine of sorts that is made from asbestos and it is showed off with great pride. 

The problem for these townsfolk is the money asbestos produces for them. It enables the mining business to provide health care and other expenses taken care of by welfare services. So, if they accept and/or talk about how bad asbestos is, they will be losing a lot for their livelihood. Even though illness is inevitable, they still appreciate asbestos mining for what it does to get them by in their daily lives. 

Doctors in Asbest won’t even broach the subject. When someone dies from mesothelioma, unlike the United States, where we would research into the who, what, where, and why, Russia simply groups it in with the other cancers in the country. 

This is not the only location this is happening in. Within the United States, Libby, Montana saw asbestos illnesses and death in high numbers due to a mine where they sourced vermiculite in 1919. As a result, 3000 people were stricken with illness and more than 400 died. More were thought to have died, but documentation of those deaths appeared to be indeterminate. 

W.R. Grace and Company gained control of the mine in 1963. Though they knew of the asbestos dangers, they didn’t tell anyone. It continues this way until well into the 1990s, where they were producing, which allowed asbestos to pollute the town even more. It was finally closed that year and lawsuits from that claim are still being paid today. 

The EPA deemed the town of Libby a public health concern. This began a cleaning effort, forcing Grace to pay millions to fund it. However, 12 years after the cleaning began, restrictions for asbestos were lifted. It was decided that the mineral could be used in a restricted amount, despite the resident’s dismay. Each use has to meet the approval of the EPA, though. 

Future Plans For Asbestos

The future for asbestos appears to be bright. It does not seem we have completely rid our society of its existence. However, the awareness of the risks of exposure to asbestos helps people in getting medical treatment as soon as exposure is noted, rather than waiting to seek medical care. 

In the past, a ban for asbestos in the United States seemed imminent. Now, lobbyists have held their stance in keeping asbestos in production by downplaying its true danger. They claim to the public that a small amount of asbestos is ok, however, medical literature describes that the tiny fiber material can pose a health risk even in small amounts. 

For a ban within the United States to take hold, proponents believe targeting secondhand exposure may be the route to take. Appealing to families and the exposure it can cause to their children unknowingly, they claim, could be a great way to make people think twice about the dangers the mineral possesses. 

There are several countries who have banned asbestos already. After a 70 year run in Korea, asbestos was banned in 2009. While this ban was challenging, alternatives had to remain economically comparable. 

Canada has also set a ban for asbestos. The established link between asbestos exposure and the cancers it causes has made the once top asbestos manufacturing give up its crown. 

Asbestos alternatives should be used more frequently so that the exposure to asbestos lessens and eventually disappears altogether. Educating people on the truth surrounding asbestos exposure and cancer development has to continue. Intimidation tactics by asbestos lobbyists have prevented this from happening in the past, as they aimed to make people question what was fact and  what was true. 

Yet, when the death of a loved one could have been prevented, it becomes all too real. Money doesn’t pay back when a loved one is gone.

Cancer from asbestos is unnecessary.

Asbestos Information